Copywriting is one of the most essential skills for a marketer to have.
Good copy is everywhere! Websites, advertisements, blog posts, and especially on social media.
We want to give you the tools to write exceptional copy for even the tiniest of things on social: captions, tweets, Stories, and more.
Consider this a crash course in copywriting for all the little things you write on social media everyday. Every word counts, and we want to help make sure even your small words have a big impact!
Keep reading for many tips on how to craft the perfect words and phrases in your captions, tweets, and Stories.
First things first: The basics of length and character limits
Let’s start at the top …
What’s the best length for your social media copy?
We sometimes bristle a bit at the notion of “best,” only because “best” seems to be more and more relative to each particular social media account today. Your best length of post is unique to you and is based on your social media stats.
That being said, when you look in aggregate, these are some good guidelines and starting points for you to test with.
Headlines for Facebook ads are even shorter. An AdEspresso study found that the most popular headline length for ads was just five words.
Here are all the major character limits for Facebook:
- Facebook Posts: 63,206 characters
- Facebook Ads image/ video: body text – 125 characters
- Facebook Ads (link) image/ video: headline – 25 characters
- Facebook Ads (link) image/ video: link description – 30 characters
- Facebook Ads (all types) – no image can be more than 20% text
For your Instagram captions, you can write reallllllly long … The caption limit is 2,200 characters. Again, your particular “best” length will be unique to you. But if you’re looking for a place to start, the team at Social Report found that captions less than 125 characters do best.
This doesn’t necessarily include hashtags either. Many brands add multiple hashtags either to their caption or to the first comment of their post. Best practices range anywhere from 4 to 9 hashtags being ideal.
We recently launched a feature within Buffer that lets you save hashtag groups to use again. You can start a free trial at buffer.com to give it a try.
Here are the limits for Instagram:
- Instagram Caption Character Limit: 2,200 characters
- Instagram Hashtag Limit: 30 hashtags
- Instagram Ads image/ video: text – 2 rows of text
- Instagram Ads (all types) – no image can be more than 20% text
On Twitter, you have up to 280 characters to use. The most common lengths for tweets are somewhere between 71 and 100 characters.
And on Pinterest, you can write a title and description for your pin. For the title, you have up to 100 characters to use and with the description you get 500 characters. The first 50-60 characters are most likely to show up in people’s feeds, and if you don’t put in a title, then people see your description instead. So it’s definitely important to key in on those first words in your description.
Ok, now that you know the boundaries for your copy on social media, let’s talk about a couple more social-specific copywriting tips. These tie directly into your social media strategy, too, so they shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.
1. Begin your planning with copy (not visuals)
What’s your process for coming up with social media copy?
We often think of the visuals being the primary asset in a great social media post, but …
What if you started with copywriting first?
It might not be the way that everyone does it, but those that do, they swear by this process. On her blog, Karola Karlson shares her four-step process, which features copy before visuals:
- Step 1: Plan what you want to say
- Step 2: Plan the exact wording
- Step 3: Develop the post’s design
- Step 4: Upload and publish your message
You can definitely experiment with the order in which you set things up. Reach out to us on social with hashtag #bufferpodcast to let us know how you do it.
2. Pay Attention to Trending Content
These trends can be incredibly helpful for that initial stage of “planning what to say.” For instance, you can check a social media event calendar to see what’s happening this week. Or, you can eye a section like Twitter’s trends to see what people are talking about right now.
This is especially useful when you’re planning the exact wording of what to say because you might want to incorporate a popular hashtag or some new Internet lingo.
Staying on top of the social trends will help your copy feel relevant and memorable.
3. Be Aware of Keywords and Hashtags for Discoverability
This is where discoverability and copywriting combine. You’ll need to be thinking about both.
Of course, there can definitely be times when you opt for a more clever wording over a clear keyword. And that’s okay — especially if it fits your brand voice, and particularly on personality-rich places like Twitter and Instagram.
When you’re optimizing for discoverability and search — for instance, on a site like Pinterest — you’ll want to consider your keywords and hashtags. Pinterest engineer Heath Vinicombe recently shared how Pinterest’s AI comes up with keywords based on what you write in your captions, so it pays to be clear.
And while we’re on the topic of social-specific copywriting, I wanted to mention a couple quick formatting tips, too:
- You can use caps lock to highlight certain words in your text.
- Line spacing can help split long paragraphs into multiple text blocks.
- Same goes with bullet points and emoji — these can help break up blocks of text.
- On Twitter in particular, our best-performing tweets use a line breaks and then an emoji as a bullet point at the start of each new line.
4. Use these tips to find the perfect word to use
The word might be a power word, one of those catchy words that convert and get people to click. Or maybe it’s just a word that sounds cool.
In terms of power words, we highly encourage you to check out the post above. Super quick, we’ll mention that the five most persuasive words in the English language are:
We also love a few catchy ones like “Suddenly,” “Remarkable,” and “Announcing,” too.
But let’s come back to that concept of cool-sounding words.
How do you find a cool-sounding word?
One way is to consider the specific letters in the words you’re using, particularly when it comes to stop consonants and glide consonants.
Stop consonants are those that cause the vocal tract to block when pronouncing the consonant.
Glide consonants do not obstruct the vocal tract and are quite frictionless when spoken.
If you’re thinking, Huh? We were too! It’s a bit confusing until you hear some examples.
Here’s an example that uses stop consonants. See if you can hear the staccato rhythm:
Somewhere a ponderous tower clock slowly dropped a dozen strokes into the gloom.
– James Thurber, The Wonderful O
And here’s one that uses glide consonants. Hopefully you can hear a smoother flow.
Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind.
– Nathaniel Hawthorne
The effect of a stop consonant is to slow the flow of a word or sentence, thereby bringing a certain focus to a particular word or phrase. Stop consonants help highlight what comes next. Stop consonants include:
Glide consonants, on the other hand, can lead to a really smooth flow from word to word and in the greater context of a sentence or paragraph.Glide consonants include:
So, now that we know how words are constructed to sound good and capture attention, next comes the work of …
5. Structure your words so that they have maximum impact (literary devices)
There are some interesting literary devices you can use here, too. One that I wanted to point out in particular though is parallelism.
With parallelism, you repeat words and sentence structures in a strategic way. There’s a really cool and catchy rhythm to this type of writing. Here’s an example you might have heard of:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness
Now, one of the most interesting parts of writing great captions is knowing where to put your strongest words and sentences. Do you put them at the beginning, the middle, or the end?
One way we like to think of it is that you want to guide the reader through your text.
In order to do this, you need to capture attention first. You can do this by using a power word to start, by placing your key message in the first sentence, or by using short, “be”-sentences to start a paragraph. “Be”-sentences are those simple ones that include a “be” verb like
Once you have your reader hooked, you can keep them interested in the caption by using some of the methods we mentioned earlier about catchy words and phrases. Then, when you get to the end, try a “climax expression.” Basically: Whatever your most important phrase is within your sentence, have it come last.
Another way to capture people’s attention is to …
6. Try some proven copywriting formulas
There are a bunch to choose from. We’ll run through a few of our favorites, and link to a bunch of others in the show notes.
If – then
As you could probably tell, this formula begins with an “if” statement … If you have this particular need … and it follows with a “then” … then here’s the solution.
What Most People Do…
The hook of this formula is that, unfortunately, people might be doing the wrong thing. But that’s okay! Your copy is here to show the right way. An example of this might be: “What most people do about writing social media captions is think of them as an afterthought. Yikes! Here’s why you should think copy-first.”
Imagine if … // You’re standing at a crossroads
Another popular construction is to get people to dream about the future. So formulas like “Imagine if …” can be really effective.
And a related one is the phrase:“You’re standing at a crossroads.” This makes the reader feel like they are at a decision-making point, and then your copy can help them make that decision.
Before – After – Bridge
The way it works is that you show your audience what life is like right now, then show them how things could be better afterward. Then bridge the two by explaining how your solution can help.
We use before-after-bridge a lot with our blog post introductions, too.
We could go on and on for hours about more formulas and copywriting tips, but we imagine this might be enough to chew on for one day. We’ll link to a bunch of additional resources below.
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About The Science of Social Media podcast
The Science of Social Media is your weekly sandbox for social media stories, insights, experimentation, and inspiration. Every Monday (and sometimes more) we share the most cutting-edge social media marketing tactics from brands and influencers in every industry. If you’re a social media team of one, business owner, marketer, or someone simply interested in social media marketing, you’re sure to find something useful in each and every episode. It’s our hope that you’ll join our 27,000+ weekly iTunes listeners and rock your social media channels as a result!